15th August - Lady’s Island Pilgrimage, Wexford

Written by Anne Newman - 15th August 2019

Today is the Feast of the Assumption and it is a day when fairs are celebrated in many country towns. It also marks the beginning of the pilgrimage season at Lady's Island in Co Wexford.

Lady's Island is an ancient place of pilgrimage in the south east corner of Ireland in the diocese of Ferns. It has been a place of pilgrimage for at least a thousand years.

In the 6th century, St Abban chose Lady’s Island as the location for his monastery, and sometime in the following century it became a place of pilgrimage. It is by far the oldest and most significant Marian shrine in Ireland.

Pilgrims walk around the island reciting the rosary.

The pilgrimage starts on the 15th of August and ends on the 8th of September with over 50,000 pilgrims taking part.

The place Lady’s Island ( Oileán Mhuire) is a small island located a few miles south of Wexford town. The island is located within Lady’s Island Lake ( Loch Tóchair - the Lake of the Causeway) and is connected to the mainland by a causeway (tóchar) which gives the lake its Irish name. It is a saline lake separated from the sea by a sand bar close to Carnsore Point.

The lagoon nature of the lake and its proximity to the sea make it almost unique in Europe and an area of great ecological significance.

I visited here twice with Tom over the years and found the walk around the island inspirational. The peace and sacredness of the walk was special. There is a well on the island but it was not on any of the old maps and the water is not safe to drink.

The actual Lady’s Well is on the mainland. It is found by passing over a stile and through a couple of fields, look for our lady on the wall on the lane… and a signpost.

Perhaps the pilgrimage had older origins. The area seems to have held importance in pre-Christian times when it was used during the August festival of Lughnasa. The Festival of Carmán used to be held on 1st August. Carmán was a warrior and sorceress from Athens who tried to invade Ireland in the days of the Tuatha Dé Danann along with her three sons, Dub ("black"), Dother ("evil") and Dian ("violence"). She used her magical powers to destroy all the fruit of Ireland. Four of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Crichinbel, Lug, Bé Chulle and Aoi, challenged Carman and her sons. The sons were forced to leave Ireland, and Carman was imprisoned.

She died of longing and was buried in Wexford (Loch Garman) among oak trees. Her grave was dug by Bres. The place she was buried was called Carman after her, and the Tuatha Dé Danann are said to have instituted an Aonach Carmán, or the Festival of Carmán.

Her story is told in a poem of the Metrical Dindshenchas which states that she died in 600.

Pagan worship sites in the locality included two sun veneration sites at nearby Ballytrent and Carnsore Point. Ballytrent was renowned for its ráth or fort, which was the most extensive of its kind in Western Europe. In a 1903 publication of Irish place names the island is referred to as “Cluain-na-mBan”, meaning the “meadow of the women”. This is possibly because pagan druidesses were based in this area. Following the introduction of Christianity in Ireland many pagan sites were Christianised.

Link to RTE clip on the pilgrimage pilgrimage-to-ladys-island


Anne is sharing a series of events throughout the year - you can find them listed by clicking to the link Other Notable Dates and Festivals.